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Prompted By Pandemic Summer

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Sacramento Bee, July 24, 2020

I’ve done everything I can
To try and make us fine
And I think I’m
For a long, long time.
(With apologies to Linda Ronstadt.)

It has been nineteen weeks since we first started trying to "flatten the curve." How are we doing? Results are mixed.

It has now been nineteen weeks since we first entered covid consciousness and started trying to “flatten the curve.” At that time it sounded like a temporary thing. The hospitals and medical workers weren’t prepared to deal with a large number of covid cases all at once, so everybody needed to stay home and not pass the virus around until they had time to get ready for it. Okay, that seemed doable.

Some of us wrote about it a week later on the prompt Vacation or Staycation from Hell.  My March 21st story, Don’t Get Around Much Any More, described how our paradigm shifted between March 10th and March 13th, from not taking the virus seriously at all to having all our activities shut down. I also mentioned my personal plague of ANTS invading our house.

We revisited covid six weeks later in Pandemic – Pandemonium or Panacea?, wondering if there were any positives in the covid situation. My May 2nd story, Don’t Stand So Close to Me, described life being conducted online and on Zoom, with weekly Zoom choir meetings, Zoom happy hours, and a Zoom reception for students admitted to Harvard, as well as my mah jongg group playing our weekly games on a mah jongg website. I also briefly mentioned another personal plague, the neuropathy I was suddenly experiencing in my feet. But basically, I concluded, life was weird but not terrible.

Now, amazingly, another twelve weeks have passed. And how are we doing?

In June it appeared that life was starting to come back to normal. The number of covid cases was down. Society started opening up. Still, I had my doubts. My hairdresser texted me that the salon was reopening on June 1st, and did I want an appointment. I responded that it was too soon for me, and I would wait and see what happened with the first phase of reopening. Restaurants were allowed to have indoor dining as long as the tables were six feet apart; other businesses were opening too, with precautions.

But then people got too comfortable. They didn’t wear masks and weren’t careful about social distancing, and now we have had an upsurge of cases. The newspaper reports that there are more Californians currently in the hospital with covid than at any other time during the pandemic.

I could see it in the park across the street from my house. In April it was empty. In May there were small groups, with their chairs spread apart. But by June and the first part of July there were large parties, no masks, everyone crowded together just like in the “before times.” Now Governor Newsom has ordered that everything be shut down again. I took this photo just this week, from a great distance (which is why it’s fuzzy), because I didn’t want the people to know I was photographing them. But the woman must have suspected, and maybe she even thought I was a city employee trying to enforce the new order, because she called out to me “We’re all family, it’s okay.”

On a personal level, the ants that I first mentioned in my March story are still around. (The second plague.) We did manage to vanquish them from the bathroom after using three different kinds of ant traps/poisons. But the kitchen was another story. We had to clean out the spice cabinet when we found them up there. We had to throw away an almost full bag of cat food, because they were even in that. And we had to stop using our dishwasher, because we would find ants in there feasting on the dirty dishes, no matter how much we cleaned them off before loading. So we washed and dried our dishes by hand after every meal. As of July 14th, and the use of the fifth different type of ant poison, it seemed like they might finally be gone. But I hesitated to say that, because I feared that, just like the corona virus, they would come back as soon as we relaxed our guard. Indeed, I wrote this paragraph on Wednesday, July 22nd, and on Thursday, July 23rd the ants came back! So now we are once again putting drops of ant poison on our kitchen counters.

As to my third plague, the neuropathy in my feet that I first mentioned in my May story, it is also still around. So far I have had an x-ray, an MRI, an exam by a spine specialist, and a nerve test which involved sticking little needles into various places in my legs. Each time I had to go into a facility where there were lots of other people, although everyone was wearing a mask and had their temperature taken before being allowed in. Still it made me nervous just to be in those public buildings, considering I hadn’t even been in a grocery store since early March. The spine specialist concluded that it wasn’t a spine problem, so now I have to see a neurologist. I blame the whole thing on covid!

And finally, having decided that I didn’t want to risk going to the hairdresser, I considered coloring my roots at home, but decided this was a perfect opportunity to let them grow out when nobody would see me. I may end up going back to dyeing it, or I may become a silvery blonde. I think I might like going natural, judging by the way the roots look. This picture was snapped right after I washed it. I then colored in all the gray with ‘Tween Time, my haircolor touch-up crayon, so it’s our little secret. The crayon color lasts from one washing until the next, and I have only been washing my hair every two to three weeks, so it isn’t hard to do. (Little known fact about curly hair: it doesn’t get dirty nearly as fast as straight hair, because it isn’t oily. Even when I go three weeks between shampoos, it looks fine. People I know with straight hair can barely go three days!)

I am even more thankful for Zoom than I was in May, as it becomes more and more clear that I am not going to see anyone in person for a long, long time. We have had family Zoom parties on birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and any other excuse we can think of. Zoom choir every Wednesday night continues to be a high point of my week. And now that we know that the High Holy Days services will be virtual, choir members are recording all the music. Every week we each get mp3 files of the accompaniment for two or three songs  and we listen on one device while we record on another. Then we email our recordings to a member of the bass section who is an electronics wizard, and he cobbles it all together. Each Wednesday on our Zoom he plays for us the pieces that we recorded the previous week. It is quite amazing.

Everything I have been reading recently says it is likely to be some time next year before all this is over. The idea of staying home and seeing nobody for that long is pretty chilling. But this week there have been reports of a UK vaccine that shows “early promise in immune response,” as the headline in the Bee described it. So I am trying to be optimistic.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, CA is really in a pickle! Having a child in San Jose who is not a great communicator really worries me, but we follow the state closely. Thanks for giving me this personal update. At first I thought it was just the LA area that was in tough shape, but now it seems it is state-wide.

    I think your hair looks fine. I absolutely did not know that curly hair is so different than straight. I can’t imagine going so long without washing it. What a blessing! Now that mine is long again, I spend 20 minutes with the blow dryer…I feel like I’m back in college.

    I’m hearing too many opposing views about how effective the vaccine(s) will be, whether people will be willing to try something that has been rushed into production, etc. So I am not quite as hopeful as I was a few weeks ago about things getting back to normal by the middle of next year. I hope it is true.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. We were joking this morning about being so proud that CA has beaten NY to be number one! But of course it is no joking matter, and I’m sure you are very worried about Vicki. I find that zooming with my kids helps a lot to alleviate my worries, and I’m thankful that Molly’s move into a new house at the end of June didn’t cause any damage.

      I want to be optimistic about the vaccine because the alternative is just so grim.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Love your opening riff on Linda Ronstadt, Suzy. And I am so sorry about the resurgence of COVID in California. My feeling is that we all opened up too fast because it was summer and people were bored with staying at home. And people were careless, especially younger folks who wanted to celebrate Memorial Day and July 4th weekends as they always had. So sorry about the neuropathy in your feet. Like you, I have had a few unavoidable medical procedures and it makes me extremely nervous to do them with the pandemic. And BTW, I think you will look awesome as a silvery blonde!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. You are right about Memorial Day and July 4th, they were both crazy in the park by my house – I should have taken pictures then! Now, as a result, things are worse here than they have ever been. And thanks for the vote of confidence on my hair, I’m still not sure what I will decide to do when all this is over.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks so much for your fascinating update, Suzy. I certainly knew that COVID was still around — especially in California — but sorry to hear that your other two “plagues” are still there as well. You would think that there would be some sort of moratorium on other plagues during this thing, but obviously not. The gods are clearly displeased.

    And you are one of the few brave women out there not only to talk about your hair coloring (or not), but to illustrate it and even discuss the secret of “‘Tween Time,” which I’d never heard of before. I have learned over the years, as a guy, never to comment on a woman’s hair color, especially if it appeared to change — or not change, as the case may be. It has served me well, or at least kept me alive. So, again, I salute your bravery.

    Here’s hoping that your two personal plagues are resolved soon and that, somehow, we all emerge safely from the COVID plague. In the meantime, we gotta keep wearing our masks and socially distance. And, oh yeah, boot Trump out.

    • Suzy says:

      Glad you thought it was fascinating, John. I felt like I was writing too much, but then decided it was important to put it all down as a record for myself, to have a clear picture of this plague after it’s over, even if it bored Retrospect readers.

      I wrote about ‘Tween Time in my May story, and even included a picture of it, so apparently you weren’t paying attention, but I forgive you. It wasn’t something you needed to remember. Barb commented at the time that she was so glad to learn about it and was going to buy some online as soon as she finished writing the comment.

      “Masks, social distance, and boot Trump out” should be our mantra for the next few months!

  4. Good recap, Suzy. I remember back in March hearing reports that things could improve dramatically or even be over by the summer and thinking that seemed so far off and yet somehow here we are at the end of July already, we made it, but now it “may” be over some time next year?

    Yeah, we’re hangin’ in there, some of us by a thread, and things like ants, neuropathy, a sick dog, generalized anxiety, cabin fever, depression, small kids at home, not enough money (and the list goes on and on and on) make it that much harder to remain optimistic. You’re doing a mighty good job from what I’ve read…so keep on keepin’ on, my friend!

    And zoom-zoom…oh wait, that’s Mazda. (We have two.) But, anyway, TGFZ!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Barb. Hangin’ in there is exactly right, which reminds me of that poster that people had in college of a cat hanging from a branch with the caption Hang In There! Sometimes the thread we are hanging by seems sturdier and other times it is pretty fragile. And yes, TGFZ!

  5. Marian says:

    Great recap, Suzy, and sorry for all your other “plagues.” Seems there is always something that goes awry. You are exactly right about parks and public places and how people are behaving. Fortunately for us in Santa Clara county, we never fully opened up, so people weren’t as relaxed. If I see people without masks, they give me wide berth. My favorite outdoor encounter was with a family group of Muslims (not uncommon in this area), all with hijabs and masks, playing badminton. Good luck with the neuropathy and I hope you can find a solution. My “plague,” if you can call it that, is blepharitis, clogged oil glands in the eyes and eyelids, which suddenly appeared right at the beginning of the shutdown. Fortunately treatable but, not curable. I call the condition “Covid eyes” based on when it started.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Marian. I love the image of the masked and hijabed group playing badminton. I guess they are used to covering up, so a mask is not such a big deal to them.

      Sorry to hear about your “Covid eyes,” and glad it’s treatable even if not curable. You’ve given me a new name for my neuropathy, “Covid feet,” which so far doesn’t even seem to be treatable.

  6. Suzy,
    Your piece feels like an historical journal of the times- any reader picking it up 100 years from now would have a true feel for the waves of human responses to this unbelievable time we are living through- thanks for sharing!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, January. As I was writing it (and my two previous pandemic pieces which I link to), I felt like I was documenting the experience for myself in the future, in case I forget how it was. But I also like the notion of a reader picking it up 100 years from now. Like the plague diaries of Pepys and Defoe.

  7. Anyway, loved your plague journal, Ms Defoe. So thoughtful and has your usual warm heartbeat tempo in the narrative. Always attractive and readable. I think your mission is worthwhile: keeping a journal to remember how this felt in retrospect. I drive around Hollywood’s eerie streets — about as far from my home as I get — wondering how quickly this will all disappear and then, am reminded that I have no idea — nor does anyone else whether this plague WILL ever disappear.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you for that lovely compliment! I’m delighted to be compared to Daniel Defoe. I don’t think I want to write a whole book about our plague though. My three stories seem sufficient for now. But then again, as you point out, we don’t even know if this plague will ever be over, so it could be a lifetime project. I hope not!

  8. Thanx Suzy for your excellent Covid recap as our global and national nightmares continue in tandem.

    And sorry about the ants! We had an ant invasion a few years ago and the exterminator came once and problem solved, but more recently we had moths in all our closets, and found sweaters, coats, suits, scarves and hats destroyed! Twas before Covid so I was horribly upset, but now relatively speaking it was small potatoes.

    And sorry about your feet. I need some foot surgery myself but am putting it off as I’m becoming passionate about pickle-ball where one can spend an hour worrying about nothing but getting a plastic ball over a net with a paddle. (The trick is not to turn on the news when you get home.)

    • Suzy says:

      Dana, I never turn on the news! I read the morning newspaper, and then occasional articles from the NYT or WaPo, but haven’t been able to watch TV news since this abomination got sworn in as President. Don’t want to see him, don’t want to hear him, don’t want to know what awful thing he has decided to do next. Now pickleball, on the other hand, sounds great, I should definitely start playing that!

  9. Good move not to watch the news, it’s never good.
    November is coming.

  10. Suzy there is a sub sub sub genre of pandemic literature. You’re off to a good start. I empathize with the neurological puzzle. I, too, have been dealing with it now for eight years. I’m so sick of the diagnostic procedures – including the electromyography. As they say, aging is not for the timid.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Tom. Do you think I have a new career in pandemic literature? Not sure I want to dwell on it beyond my few stories here. And you and I will have to have a neurology discussion offline.

      • Yes, I do. See, e.g., Hamnet, A Story of the Plague. Just out. Hamnet is Shakespeare’s son. There is much non-fiction as well drawing parallels with the 1918 pandemic. Nothing like misery to bring out creative genius.

        And yes, we’ll have a conversation about neurology.

  11. Live Aloha says:

    I understand what you’re saying about going out. I had to go to the mall a few weeks ago, and while I normally love browsing through the shops, I just wanted to get out of there. Do what’s right for you. If anyone judges, that’s their problem.

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